In a just released “Explorer Story” video, Google sends physics teacher/aspiring astronaut/really cool guy Andrew Vanden Heuvel some 500 feet below Switzerland for a Glass-ified tour of the world’s biggest particle accelerator.
As if a bit of first-person footie of the LHC wouldn’t be enough, Andrew got to pipe-in his brother’s physics class through a Google Hangout, allowing students a few thousand miles away to join in on the adventure.
For more, visit techcrunch.com
Tiny robot flies like a fly
A robot as small as a housefly has managed the delicate task of flying and hovering the way the actual insects do.
“This is a major engineering breakthrough, 15 years in the making,” says electrical engineer Ronald Fearing, who works on robotic flies at the University of California, Berkeley. The device uses layers of ultrathin materials that can make its wings flap 120 times a second, which is on a par with a housefly's flapping rate. This “required tremendous innovation in design and fabrication techniques”, he adds.
The robot's wings are composed of thin polyester films reinforced with carbon fibre ribs and its 'muscles' are made from piezoelectric crystals, which shrink or stretch depending on the voltage applied to them.
For more, visit nature.com
Last of a breed: Postal workers who decipher bad addresses
Inside a plain warehouse-like office building filled with rows of cubicles, Melissa Stark stares at the image of an envelope on a computer screen. The handwriting is barely legible and appears to be addressed to someone in the “cty of Jesey.”
“Is that a 7 or a 9 in the address?” Ms. Stark said to no one in particular. Then she typed in a few numbers and a list of possible addresses popped up on her screen. “Looks like a 9,” she said before selecting an address, apparently in Jersey City. The letter disappears and another one appears on the screen.
“That means I got it right,” Ms. Stark said.
Ms. Stark is one of the Postal Service’s data conversion operators, a techie title for someone who deciphers unreadable addresses, and she is one of the last of a breed. In September, the post office will close one of its two remaining centres where workers try to read the scribble on envelopes and address labels that machines cannot.
For more, visit nytimes.com
The first entirely 3D-printed handgun is here
Last month, Austin-based Defence Distributed was granted a Type 7 federal firearms license. The not-for-profit group of 3D-printing enthusiasts and gunsmiths had been designing and printing weapon components for a while (including AR lower receivers, the portion of an AR legally considered to be the "body" of the firearm), but the federal firearms license enabled them to legally manufacture and distribute "lowers" and other weapons, with some stipulations.
Today, though, Forbes is reporting that the folks at Defence Distributed have gone beyond merely designing and printing weapon components, and have instead created an entire weapon: the "Liberator." It's an unassuming little thing, looking a whole lot like something from the toy aisle at Wal-Mart, but it fires real bullets—in fact, it even features an interchangeable barrel so that it can handle different calibre rounds.
For more, visit arstechnica.com
With non-invasive Down Syndrome test, Illumina sees market in sequencing the DNA of foetuses
Earlier this year Illumina, the maker of the world’s most widely used DNA sequencing machines, agreed to pay nearly half a billion dollars for Verinata, a startup in Redwood City, California, that has hardly any revenues. What Verinata does have is technology that can do something as ethically fraught as it is inevitable: sequence the DNA of a human foetus before birth.
Verinata is one of four U.S. companies already involved in a rapidly expanding market for prenatal DNA testing using Illumina’s sequencers. Their existing tests, all launched in the last 18 months, can detect Down syndrome from traces of foetal DNA found in a syringeful of the mother’s blood. Until now, detecting Down syndrome has meant grabbing foetal cells from the placenta or the amniotic fluid, procedures that carry a small risk of miscarriage.
For more, visit technologyreview.com
Scientists create hybrid flu that can go airborne
As the world is transfixed by a new H7N9 bird flu virus spreading through China, a study reminds us that a different avian influenza — H5N1 — still poses a pandemic threat.
A team of scientists in China has created hybrid viruses by mixing genes from H5N1 and the H1N1 strain behind the 2009 swine flu pandemic, and showed that some of the hybrids can spread through the air between guinea pigs. The results are published in Science.
For more, visit nature.com
How our brains navigate the world without us noticing
To remain oriented in a complex world, our brains constantly make and revise maps of our surroundings. We do most of this mental mapping unconsciously, which makes it hard to study how our brains keep a firm grasp on space and time.
“Every creature, no matter how simple or complex, must make maps of space,” said Mayank Mehta, a neuroscientist at UCLA. “Our goal is to understand what are the cues they are using and how they are putting them together.”
To meet that goal, Mehta and his colleagues watched the brains of rats exploring a virtual reality environment and found that mental mapping relies on a wider variety of sensory input than previously thought.
For more, visit arstechnica.com
Injectable nanonetwork controls blood sugar in diabetes
In a promising development for diabetes treatment, researchers have developed a network of nanoscale particles that can be injected into the body and release insulin when blood-sugar levels rise, maintaining normal blood sugar levels for more than a week in animal-based laboratory tests. The work was done by researchers at North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Children’s Hospital Boston.
“We’ve created a ‘smart’ system that is injected into the body and responds to changes in blood sugar by releasing insulin, effectively controlling blood-sugar levels,” says Zhen Gu, lead author of a paper describing the work and an assistant professor in the joint biomedical engineering program at NC State and UNC Chapel Hill. “We’ve tested the technology in mice, and one injection was able to maintain blood sugar levels in the normal range for up to 10 days.”
For more, visit rdmag.com
Star Trek: Martin Rees: ‘How post-humans could colonise other worlds’
The best science fiction, from H G Wells onwards, can nourish everyone’s imagination. It can widen the perspective of astronomers too – that strange breed of which I’m a member. Many of us are avid consumers of the genre – though I think we’d expect aliens, if they exist, to be far stranger, and far less humanoid, than those portrayed in Star Trek. Indeed, possibilities once in the realms of science fiction have shifted into serious scientific debate – “cyborgs” and “post-humans”, alien life, and even parallel universes.
The stupendous time spans of the evolutionary past are now part of common culture (though maybe not in the United States Bible Belt, nor in parts of the Islamic world). Most people are at ease with the idea that our present biosphere is the outcome of four billion years of Darwinian evolution. But the even longer time-horizons that stretch ahead – familiar to every astronomer – haven’t permeated our culture to the same extent. Our Sun is less than halfway through its life. It formed 4.5 billion years ago, but it’s got six billion more before the fuel runs out. It will then flare up, engulfing the inner planets and vaporising any life that might then remain on Earth. But even after the Sun’s demise, the expanding universe will continue – perhaps for ever – destined to become ever colder, ever emptier. To quote Woody Allen, “eternity is very long, especially towards the end.”
For more, visit telegraph.co.uk
Galileo’s Ship was one of the oldest relativity thought experiments
We think it's obvious that the Earth goes around the sun, today, but back before Copernicus, detractors had the most obvious argument possible against heliocentrism. To combat this, in his argument in favor of a sun-centered universe, Galileo came up with a thought experiment about relativity now known as Galileo's Ship.
Back during the times when society scrutinized the stars as they - like all the universe - dutifully circled the Earth, some people noticed that something was amiss. Although all the stars moved, they didn't all move at the same speed. They didn't move in the same arc. They didn't even move in the same direction. Astronomers, like Copernicus and Galileo, began popping up and proposing a new theory about why this happened. The stars weren't moving. The Earth was.
For more, visit io9.com
Florida teen charged with felony for trying science
News of Kiera Wilmot’s arrest has seriously unnerved me. She is the Florida high school student who was experimenting with common household chemicals in science class that resulted in a minor explosion. There were no injuries and no damage to school property; however, she was taken away in handcuffs, formally arrested and expelled from school.
I acknowledge that too little information has been provided on the case. We have NO idea what was happening in the class. Where was the teacher? Were students involved in a laboratory activity at the time? I have spent time in the high school classroom. I know the shenanigans (and havoc) these pre-adults can cause. It is no laughing matter. Even if this were a prank, say something akin to my generation’s idea of setting off smoke bombs in the hall during the passing of classes, my gut reaction stands.
For more, visit scientificamerican.com
Developing nations should avoid ‘slow science’
Scientists in the developing world are under growing pressure to publish more every year. Some would argue that these quantitative metrics are promoting a scientific distortion, in which quantity prevails over quality — that is, publishing papers in journals with high impact factors.
In certain developing countries, the ability of researchers or institutions to obtain funding is closely related to their productivity, measured as the number of scientific papers they publish.
For more, visit scidev.net
World’s rarest duck on the rebound in Madagascar
After a final sighting in 1991, the Madagascar pochard was thought to have vanished for good. But this diving duck was rediscovered in 2006 when a flock of 22 individuals was found on Lake Matsaborimena in northern Madagascar by conservationists during an expedition. Soon after Madagascar pochard eggs were taken and incubated in a joint captive breeding program by Durrell, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the Peregrine Fund, Asity Madagascar, and Madagascar government, which recently announced that the population—both captive and wild—has nearly quadrupled.
"Although Lake Matsaborimena is the last hiding place for the ducks, it is far from ideal as a habitat," Peter Cranswick, the head of Species Recovery at WWT, says explaining why the eggs were moved into captive breeding centres. "Our initial investigations suggest there is too little food and this may be leading to the low survival of the ducklings; in effect, they are starving to death."
For more, visit guardian.co.uk
Would you give up eating hamburgers to stop climate change?
In case you missed the news, humanity spent the Earth Day week reaching another sad milestone in the history of catastrophic climate change: For the first time, measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million, aka way above what our current ecosystem can handle.
Actually, you probably did miss the news because most major media outlets didn’t cover it in a serious way, if at all. Instead, they and their audiences evidently view such information as far less news-, buzz- and tweet-worthy than (among other things) the opening of George W. Bush’s library and President Obama’s jokes at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
For more, visit alternet.org
Solar Impulse departs for first sun-powered flight across US
A solar-powered plane took off from an airfield near San Francisco early Friday morning, intent upon completing the first cross-country flight relying only on the power of the sun.
If you're picturing photovoltaics glistening on jumbo-jet wings, some curbing of enthusiasm is in order. Friday's landmark event is less a peek into the future of commercial flight than it is a dramatic endorsement of clean-energy technology.
For more, csmonitor.com
Who is to blame for soaring levels of carbon dioxide?
Who is the most responsible for the world hurtling beyond 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere?
For many it is straightforward. The USA is out on its own in terms of historical CO2 emissions.
Data from the US Department of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) puts the country’s emissions from burning fossil fuels at 95.4 billion metric tonnes of CO2. That’s around the same as the next three combined, Russia, China and Japan.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which this week is hosting negotiations on a global deal to reduce emissions, acknowledged the responsibility developed countries have for this situation in its original text.
For more, visit rtcc.org
Compiled by Vasudevan Mukunth